Chapter One

 

TAYLOR FIT his key into the lock. As he opened the door into the grand foyer, the family butler came rushing in, adjusting his tie. “Mr. Taylor, I’m so sorry I didn’t hear you.”

Taylor held up a hand and closed the door behind him. “No problem, Charles. I let myself in.” He smiled down at the little man. Of course he had to look down at most people, since he topped out at six foot three.

“Your father is still in his study, sir.”

“It’s okay. I just want to get my golf clubs. I left them here after that charity event. Some friends are taking me golfing tomorrow.”

Charles smiled. “For your birthday, sir?”

“Yes. Did you think you’d see me live to twenty-five?”

“There were times I had my doubts.”

“I certainly did my best to end my days via horse and car, didn’t I?”

“Yes, sir. I believe the press described it as ‘extreme polo.’ But you seem to have found your calling with the youth centers. Very proud of you.”

Taylor clapped a hand on Charles’s shoulder. He felt frailer than even a year ago. He’d been a part of the family so long, it was hard to notice changes. “Thank you. Wish you weren’t the only one around here who thinks it’s something to be proud of.”

Charles ducked his head. Two decades with Laughton Fitzgerald had produced enormous loyalty—if not enormous affection. But then Laughton wasn’t the easiest guy to like. “He’s proud of you, in his way.”

“I’ll take your word for it, Charles.” He headed toward the double staircase that swept to the second floor on either side of the entry hall.

“Can I help you with the clubs, sir?”

He shook his head as he started to climb. “No need. I’ll just grab them from my suite.” Despite the fact that Taylor had lived away from home for years, first at college and then in his own condominium, his rooms still looked like they had when he was eighteen. Probably his father didn’t want to deal with Taylor’s shit, so he just closed it up and pretended it wasn’t there. The thick wool runners in the hall were a treat to the feet, as they had been since he was a boy. He opened the door to his sitting room. Lack of use made it a little musty. Or maybe it was the smell of all the lies he’d told while collecting the sports trophies that decorated the mantel. But then he’d certainly made up for the hiding since he finally came out at eighteen. His father insisted there might be microbes on the moon that didn’t know Taylor Fitzgerald was gay, but they were the only ones.

He crossed to the storage closet in the sitting room where he kept little-used clothing and sports equipment and pulled open the double doors. Hmm. Nothing. What could he have done with them? He’d definitely left them here when he’d played golf in the company tournament last month. He had another set, but he liked these.

Okay, so maybe Laughton had used them. He’d hoped to avoid his father on this quick snatch and grab at the house, but hell, he was here. Might as well ask.

He trotted down the stairs, passed the entrance to the huge living room, and entered the hall that led to his father’s home office. He called it a study, although he did little of that. To the side, Taylor heard clanking in the dining room that suggested the staff was preparing a meal for a bunch of people. Made sense. Friday afternoon at four. Laughton was bound to be planning to entertain some politicos or judges he wanted to influence. Taylor paused. If he asked his father about the clubs, would he get stuck having dinner? Not the way he wanted to spend his birthday eve. A meal with friends, a quick trip to a club, and a solid, world-class blowjob sounded far more up his avenue.

Oh well, get it done fast.

He strode to the door of the office and heard Laughton’s voice as he got closer.

“Yes, Burt, I think it’s safe to go ahead and plan the distribution of those funds, don’t you?” He blared his nastiest laugh, which usually meant somebody was about to get screwed. “Not likely he’s going to do the deed by tomorrow, right?”

Taylor paused and leaned against the wall. Laughton didn’t like him listening to his business deals. He said Taylor’s bleeding-heart ethics made him uncomfortable. Taylor glanced at his watch. Give him a couple minutes to get off. He smiled. Yes, getting off headed the night’s agenda, and it had nothing to do with his father.

“No, I’ve never technically hidden the details from Taylor.”

What? His ears perked.

“He just doesn’t have many suspicious bones, so the little technicality involved in the bequest never came up. Not my fault if he never read the fine print.” There was that laugh again.

Well, damn. He could barge in and ask what was up, but—better part of valor and all that. Pressing his ear closer to the door, he glanced down the hall to be sure Charles wasn’t nearby. The old man liked Taylor, but he’d never stand for him eavesdropping on Laughton.

“Okay, we need to return that money to the books without it ever being obvious it was gone. You know how to do that, right?” Quiet. “Excellent. He’ll probably not even know it happened until someday soon when he wonders what month he’ll get his inheritance.”

Taylor’s breath chugged in his chest. What was he talking about?

“No, I don’t feel bad. Shit, the little prick would never have been married in time anyway, right? I mean, have you seen any signs of him settling down? Hell, he’s too busy shagging every homo in the city. Besides, he’d just use that money for—”

Footsteps! Taylor raced across the hall into the music room and waited for Charles to walk past. His heart beat so hard it probably shook the wall he was leaning against. What fine print? He peered out into the hall. The butler was nowhere in sight. Go. He raced out of the room, ran down the hall, and sped out the front door to his car. Fortunately his father’s office looked out on the back garden. He’d know Taylor had been in the house—Charles would tell him—but not that Taylor was anywhere near his office.

Holy merde. He pressed the accelerator and powered down the mountain toward the city and his apartment in the growing twilight. What was Laughton talking about? What about his inheritance? He had to mean the money his grandfather left him. The will clearly said he could collect it following his twenty-fifth birthday. So—what the hell did his father mean about marriage?

Shit, he needed that money. If he didn’t get it, he—he didn’t want to think about it.

By the time he fought the traffic up the freeway and through the city and pulled into his parking garage, it was past four thirty. He was supposed to meet Harry and Christopher, aka Coco, at eight, but right now he had one priority. He ran inside and jumped on the elevator just as the doors were closing.

Come on. Clearly somebody slowed the damned thing down. Finally he hopped off on his floor and hurried into his apartment. His cat, Stonewall—large, orange, and furry—hurled himself at Taylor from the top of the Japanese armoire and almost missed his shoulder, he was moving so fast.

“Sorry, guy. We’ve got big financial problems.” He scratched under the giant head as he hurried to the safe in his office. He missed the combination the first time, his hands were shaking so hard. Finally he pulled out the document. He hadn’t looked at it since the reading years before. Just the sight of the papers made him want to cry. He’d loved his grandfather, and when he died he left Taylor behind with no mother and a father he hardly knew—and what he did know, he didn’t like.

Taylor spread the documents out on the floor in front of him, and Stony leaped down and spread out in a giant orange arc all over the will. Damn. “Okay, guy, you gotta be in this with me.” He pushed and Stonewall growled. “Stony, dammit. We’re talking fifty million cans of tuna!”

With supreme nonchalance, Stony rose and walked casually off the papers, then flopped and rested his head on his foreleg, staring at Taylor.

Taylor bent over the pages. His expensive education in marketing still didn’t prepare him for all the legalese. Laughton’s lawyer had also been his grandfather’s attorney, and Taylor hadn’t paid much attention as he listened to the reading, fighting tears. Still, he remembered the amount. Fifty million dollars. Nothing to sneeze at, since his father would probably leave most of his money to anyone or anything that wasn’t Taylor.

He scanned the lines and finally found the statement he remembered. He glanced at the cat. “Damn. It says it right there: I’m to receive the money after my twenty-fifth birthday. In other words after tomorrow. So what the hell was Laughton talking about?”

He paused. “Hang on.” Beside the statement was a tiny asterisk. Barely noticeable. He looked at the bottom of the page. No footnotes. Flipping, he looked for the end of the text. There. Following two pages “intentionally left blank” were a series of miniscule footnotes.

Taylor stared. His mouth slowly dropped open.

“Holy shit.” Number nine said Recipient must have secured a wife in a love match at the time of inheritance or bequest reverts to executor.

“This isn’t real.” Couldn’t be happening. “If they put this in a movie, no one would believe it.” Why? Why would his grandfather do this to him? True, the old man was happily married and hated that Laughton never appreciated his wife. When Taylor’s mom died, Laughton had taken the money she inherited and never looked back in his raping and pillaging of American business—to say nothing of pillaging a string of big-busted females.

Taylor plopped his butt on the floor and dropped his head on his knees. He’d only been eighteen when his grandfather died. The old man never knew he was gay. He probably thought he was helping Taylor marry whomever he chose, rather than somebody Laughton picked out for him. Maybe. He’d never know.

Here he sat six years later with no lawyer of his own because he’d been too damned caught up in his life to bother rocking his father’s legal boat. Well, he’d just been hit by a tsunami.

Stony oozed between Taylor’s thigh and abdomen to find a spot on his lap. Automatically Taylor petted his silky fur. “Hell, Stony, I thought I’d get a blowjob for my birthday. I didn’t know I’d get screwed.”